Starting this weekend, Dhaka will be abuzz with the art world’s glitterati – when artists, collectors, curators, museum directors and auction house representatives will descend upon the city for the fourth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit (DAS). Founded in 2012 by husband and wife duo Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, the DAS is held every two years in collaboration with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and has become the largest, non-commercial South Asian art platform in the world. This year, over 300 artists will exhibit across 10 curated exhibitions and over 120 speakers will participate in 16 panel discussions.
The DAS has taken the art world by storm – and by surprise. In only six years the DAS has grown several fold and has one of the highest footfalls of any of the international art fairs in the region. But Rajeeb Samdani, co-founder of the Samdani Art Foundation, is keen to describe the DAS as an art festival, rather than a fair, because of its lack of commercial focus. It is a platform where creative minds from the region can come together and share ideas. Rather than have a single curator, the DAS commissions curators from the world’s leading art institutions – the Tate, Centre Pompidou and the Metropolitan Museum to name a few – to conduct research in the region and work alongside Creative Director Diana Campbell-Betancourt. In this way, the organizers are investing in knowledge about the region that will remain even after the paintings are taken down and the installations are dismantled and sent back.
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A series of works by Malala Andrialavidrazana as part of the exhibition ‘A beast, a god, and a line’ Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
The Samdanis created the DAS to promote Bangladeshi art on a global scale as well as to nurture the local art scene at home. Following the inaugural DAS in 2012, the Guggenheim Museum in New York acquired a piece by Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi, entitled “Love Bed”, commissioned by the Samdani Art Foundation. This was the first time that a major international museum collected a contemporary Bangladeshi artist. The Tate and Metropolitan Museum have since appointed South Asian curators and created acquisition committees dedicated to collecting South Asian art. The DAS is playing an important role in increasing Bangladeshi representation in the global art scene, by facilitating the collection of Bangladeshi art abroad by bringing international curators, collectors and museum directors to Bangladesh and through the prizes, production grants, residencies and education programs the Samdani Art Foundation offers to local artists to broaden their creative horizons. Now that the Samdanis have secured Dhaka’s place as a fixture on the art fair circuit, they are casting their net even further and are establishing their first permanent art space, the Srihatta-Samdani Art Centre and Sculpture Park in their ancestral region of Sylhet.
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The Education Pavilion, based on the 2017 Samdani Architecture Award winner, was designed by Chittagong University architecture student Maksudul Karim Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
With each edition, the DAS has expanded and aims to create connections between South and South East Asia and revive historical inter-Asia modes of exchange. Artists from Thailand, Malaysia, Madagascar and the Philippines will be showing their work alongside South Asian artists.
This focus on connectivity in DAS 2018 highlights the role arts and culture can play in fostering regional cooperation and unity. Art has a unique ability to transcend boundaries – of culture, language, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender and orientation.
In recent years, Dhaka has staked its claim as a cultural capital of South Asia. Bengal Foundation’s Classical Music Festival is the largest Indian music festival in the world, and something to which all Dhaka dwellers look forward to each year, along with other annual events like the Folk Fest, Jazz Fest and Dhaka Lit Fest. Though Dhaka has never been a stranger to a vibrant cultural scene – it is home to the Boi Mela, Pohela Boishakhi and International Language Day and even Asia’s oldest existing art biennial, the Asia Art Biennial – the caliber and quality of these events have been growing each year. The DAS has played a leading role in raising the bar and setting new precedents for what can be achieved in Bangladesh. And next week, we will see the best yet. l
The Dhaka Art Summit will run from 2 to 10 February at Shilpakala Academy. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit: www.dhakaartsummit.org